Saturday, February 25, 2023


Many federal government agencies have a role to play in the aftermath of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, but Republicans always follow Saul Alinsky's final Rule for Radicals -- "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it" -- so all of their focus is on one figure: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttgieg.

Axios reports:
Pete Buttigieg is facing an investigation from House Republicans over the Biden administration's response to Norfolk Southern's toxic freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio....

The 41-year-old transportation secretary ... has emerged as the face of the issue in recent weeks and become a go-to target for Republican lawmakers.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has pressed President Biden to seek Buttigieg's resignation over the fallout from the crash.

... Republicans on the House Oversight Committee on Friday sent a letter to Buttigieg alleging a "slow pace" in resolving the issue and requesting a series of documents.
Quite a few departments and agencies that aren't part of the Transportation Department are playing a part in the government's response. Buttigieg didn't visit East Palestine until this week, but the head of the Environmental Protection Agency was there last week, and again a few days ago. The EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up the site where its train derailed. As the Axios story notes, the National Transportation Safety Board -- an independent agency that's not part of the Transportation Department -- has begun its investgation. This weekend, officials from the EPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control will begin door-to-door visits in East Palestine, asking reaidents how they're doing and helping them connect with government services.

But according to the GOP, all the problems are Buttigieg's fault.

Maybe it's a bad thing that the responsibility for dealing with this crisis is so spread out. But Buttigieg didn't create the bureaucracy -- he's just one of the officials who inherited it.

Most Republicans in D.C. know this isn't all Buttigieg's fault. Maybe Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn't know that, but Marco Rubio isn't stupid -- he knows that. But Republicans know what they need to do whenever anything goes wrong in America: find a Democratic or liberal scapegoat and devote all their energy to making America hate that person. Bonus points if the scapegoat has political ambitions.

If you wonder why Democrats seem not to have a Plan B in tne event that President Biden decides not to run for reelection, it's largely because Republicans have worked hard to tarnish every possible alternate candidate. Let's look at a possible candidate field that doesn't include Biden. This past week, Echelon Insights asked Democratic voters to choose from among fourteen possible candidates. The top five picks were:
Kamala Harris 27%
Pete Buttigieg 14%
Elizabeth Warren 8%
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 6%
Gavin Newsom 6%
In addition to demonizing Buttigieg, Republicans have already pre-demonized all the other candidates. Harris is the "incompetent" vice president whose public statements are "word salad" and whose laugh is a "cackle." Elizabeth Warren is "Pocahontas," a "fake Indian" who lied about having a Native American ancestor (even though she actually has one). I don't even have to enumerate the ways AOC is attacked -- the attacks come every day. Newsom isn't the subject of many personal attacks, but his state is routinely denounced as a hellhole of wokeness, crime, drugs, undocumented immigrants, and homeless encampments.

In much of the country, where Fox News is effectively the mainstream media, these ideas filter down to swing voters. Meanwhile, Democrats and liberal pundits have barely begun focusing on the reasons Ron DeSantis is dangerous, and have said next to nothing about other GOP presidential contenders apart from Donald Trump, including the ones who might serve as running mates -- Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Kristi Noem.

Democrats can't wish away the right-wing demonization machine, but they can acknowledge it and work harder to challenge it. They need to push back when potential future stars are attacked. And in the meantime, maybe they should do a little more attacking of their own.

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